This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.
In this case, a special permit applicant filed suit against his neighbor for libel per se, libel per quod, slander per quod, and defamation, alleging neighbor’s comments at a planning and zoning commission meeting caused reputational damage to his standing in community and profession and falsely accused him of criminal misconduct and being untrustworthy. The Superior Court, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk, granted the neighbor’s motion to dismiss on grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and denied the applicant’s motion to reargue. Applicant appealed, and the Appellate Court confirmed.
On appeal, the court found that given the absence of procedural safeguards to ensure the reliability of a proceeding before a planning and zoning commission, the public benefit to be derived from statements made by the public during a special permit application hearing before such a commission was not sufficiently compelling to outweigh the possible damage that untruthful statements could cause to individual reputations to warrant granting absolute immunity to such statements. Additionally, the limited authority of the commission to reject evidence or otherwise limit what information was brought before it to ensure the reliability of the proceedings, and the lack of a public policy rationale for extending the “strong medicine” of absolute immunity in this context, supported the court’s finding that a public hearing on a special permit application before a town’s planning and zoning commission was not quasi-judicial.
Having concluded that a hearing on a special permit application before a town’s planning and zoning commission was not quasi-judicial in nature, the court further held that the Appellate Court incorrectly determined that the defendant’s statements were entitled to absolute immunity. The judgment of the Appellate Court was therefore reversed and the case was remanded with direction to reverse the trial court’s judgment and to remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
Priore v Haig, 2022 WL 4099434 (CT 9/7/2022)